Given the huge amount of carpeting used in the U.S. each year, and with more than 4.7 billion pounds of it entering the waste stream annually, choosing and caring for carpet in a manner that optimizes product life while minimizing its environmental impact is especially important to facility professionals.
Environmentally responsible carpet options each have their own merits and considerations, so when choosing a carpet, customers should consider the following factors:
- Try to keep carpet out of landfills. Some suppliers offer buy-back programs for carpet at the end of its useful life.
- Choose a backing with high recycled content and check the recyclability of the face fiber and backing. Be careful of qualifiers such as “up to” or “only when available” regarding recycled content.
- Decide how and where the carpet will be used. Using the right product for the right application ensures optimum performance.
- Consider the impact of indoor air quality (IAQ) and the method of installation. Adhesives can emit VOCs (volatile organic compounds) and create an unhealthy indoor environment. There are products available with factory applied adhesives that minimize the off gassing typically associated with carpet installations.
- Remember that a material must be processed and manufactured into a comparable product in order to be truly recycled. Consult with third party certification resources to be certain about the environmental attributes of materials.
While interest in protecting the environment continues to grow, green claims—both justified and questionable—have also increased. As a result, national guidelines issued by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), with the cooperation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), are available to help facility managers ensure that the green claims made by manufacturers are accurate.
In addition, a 2006 piece of legislation, NSF-140, aims to improve the environmental preferability of carpet products purchased by states. Developed in a cooperative consensus effort of the carpet industry, the EPA, the U.S. General Services Association (GSA), several states, and the scientific community, NSF-140 rates carpet products on a four tier rating system against six categories. Products that achieve Gold or Platinum certification also receive Environmentally Preferable Product (EPP) designation.
Care And Maintenance
Facility professionals who select renewable carpet for their buildings will frequently make the extra effort to preserve their investment. The following steps should help them get the most out of their purchase.
Step 1: Identify Traffic Patterns. Evaluate traffic patterns by making a floor plan that identifies areas that need attention.
Step 2: Establish A Cleaning Schedule By Traffic Areas.
Track-Off Areas are spaces where outside soil is tracked in (entrances, lobbies, rest rooms, elevators, and areas next to hard flooring) and require more attention than others.
Heavy Traffic Areas experience more than 1,000 foot traffics per day (traffic lanes, pivot points, and funnel areas).
Moderate Traffic Zones experience 500 to 1,000 foot traffics per day (secondary hallways, offices, and light use common areas).
Light Traffic Zones experience less than 500 foot traffics per day (conference rooms, administrative areas, zones outside of traffic lanes, and limited use areas).
Areas Prone to Spots and Stains are obvious places like break rooms and kitchens.
Step 3: Choose The Proper Equipment. Vacuuming is the single most important aspect of a maintenance regime. Effective, well functioning equipment is always required for a successful program.
Approximately 80% to 90% of the soil deposited into carpet is dry. If it is not removed regularly, the dry soil can permanently damage carpet fibers.
A pile lifter is an effective tool in the cleaning process as well. This machine lifts the pile fiber and loosens attached soil before it is vacuumed up.
A hot water extraction unit used as part of a maintenance program deep cleans the carpet and removes pre-treated, soluble soil and oil based spills that vacuuming cannot. An extractor injects water into the pile, agitates the fibers, and extracts the water and suspended oil.
A portable air mover to speed up the drying time is helpful in extreme environmental conditions.
Step 4: Choose The Right Cleaning Solution And Procedure. All cleaning solutions must be used according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Always review the material safety data sheets (MSDS) and product labels, and be aware of any precautions and usage guidelines prior to applying.
Some spots may be more difficult to remove than others. The first step in removing a spot is to determine if it is water soluble or oil based. A recommended approach is to apply water first. Water soluble spots will transfer to the absorbent towel while oil based spots will not.
Sustainable Carpet Disposal
Despite conscientious maintenance programs, even the most durable carpet product will eventually need replacement. Fortunately, as consumer demand increases, more manufacturers have developed programs that reduce, reuse, and recycle raw materials.
The most environmentally responsible alternative to disposing of carpet through waste streams or incinerators is to choose carpet from a manufacturer that will buy back the old product and recycle it into something new. A closed loop process like this ensures the life cycle of the carpet never ends.
However, incorporating sustainability into carpet manufacturing means more than putting recycled content into face fiber. Many companies offer recycled content backing, modular tiles that extend carpet life, recycled content cushion, durability, low- or no-VOC adhesives, techniques that eliminate the need for adhesives, refurbishing programs that extend carpet life, and recovery programs that keep carpets out of the landfill.
From using biodiesel to fuel manufacturing processes, to closed loop recycling for carpet disposal, more and more carpet manufacturers are committed to reducing the life cycle impacts that carpet has on the environment. By factoring these aspects into their purchasing decisions, facility professionals shopping for carpet should be able to zero in on an environmentally sensitive solution that makes no compromises in terms of the product’s quality, care, and disposal.
Dunn is vice president of global business development for Dalton, GA-based Tandus and is director of Connexion, Tandus’ proprietary account management system. For more on his company’s products and services, visit www.tandus.com